Our family home in Lemoore, California included an old plum orchard when we first moved in. The year was 1996. The plum trees were beyond there useful production life yet we kept the orchard for a few years longer. Eventually the orchard needed to be removed and we leased out the land to a local farmer who grew various forage crops such as oats and alfalfa. Water was becoming scarce as we entered California drought and it was difficult to irrigate the alfalfa adequately. In 2012, we decided to transition to a hardy, drought tolerant crop.
Our yard has a couple of mature olive trees used for landscape purposes. They produce plenty of olives, many of which naturally germinate into seedlings. This was still occurring during the drought in non-irrigated areas of the yard. Olive trees made perfect sense!
They are resilient, have low water requirements and are perfectly adapted to the Mediterranean climate of California. The warm, dry growing season coupled with just a slight winter chill (olives cannot withstand hard freezes) make for abundant flowering and fruit production. The fruit matures in the late fall when most other trees are going into dormancy.
The orchard was hand-planted in the spring of 2012. I chose to use the frantoio variety as the main tree and the leccino variety as a pollinizer to enhance fruit set. The frantoio comprises 8 out of 9 trees in the field. A traditional spacing of 20 foot rows with 20 feet between trees was chosen. This pattern allows the trees room to spread out their roots and have less competition for moisture in the ground. It also lets sunlight into the canopies. Olive trees only bear fruit on branches that have adequate sun exposure.
168 trees were planted.
I diligently nurtured the trees over the next few years. I found a local Ford 8N tractor for sale and learned the in and outs of operating a 70 year old workhorse. I slowly accumulated implements to control weeds and create irrigation furrows. The heat of the summer was only tempered by the cool irrigation water as the trees were too young to provide enough shade for me to stand under. The growth of the trees was wonderful, spurred on by the nitrogen fixed in the soil by the previous alfalfa crops. Occasional olives developed on the trees even during the first summer!
In the fall of 2016, after just 4 1/2 years after planting, I decided to harvest the crop and produce my first olive oil. I was 1-2 years ahead of schedule thanks to the vigor of the trees, the fertility of soil and, hopefully, my hard work. The oil was milled immediately after harvest and then allowed to settle for a few weeks before being bottled.
This is a brief history of how Frantoio 8/9 Olive Oil came to be.